Claude Piron

Choosing an official language

(In: Ulrich Ammon et al., Sociolinguistics / Soziolinguistik, Volume 3,
Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2006, No 249)

1. Introduction

2. Five approaches to international linguistic communication

3. Criteria and observed frameworks

4. How the various systems compare in practice

4.1 Previous government investment
4.2 Previous investment in the institutions concerned
4.3 Inequality and discrimination
4.4 Linguistic cost of a session
4.5 Cost of producing a document
4.6 Waiting time for a document
4.7 Loss and distortion
4.8 Duration of the previous language study
4.9 Importance of language handicap
4.10 Limitations and annoyances
4.11 Probable increase in drawbacks in the future
4.12 Terminology

5. A tentative quantification of the superiorities and inferiorities of the four systems

6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

As international activities develop, the language barrier confronts many organizations, from world institutions such as the UN to multinational companies, through global and regional professional associations or NGOs. However, contrasting with the meticulousness with which legal details are studied when an institution is established or with the amounts invested in feasibility studies before a project is undertaken, no thorough and objective study is ever made before a decision is taken on how to ensure linguistic communication. The decision ignores the numerous factors involved and amounts are readily earmarked as though no cost efficiency analysis were warranted.

Just as interesting is the striking discrepancy between what is asserted when a language policy is being discussed and what can be observed when it is put in practice. All UN organizations have experienced a considerable increase in language services since they were established. When the addition of a new language is being discussed, three points are usually made: (1) the additional language will increase the effectiveness of communication, (2) the organization will be more democratic, and (3) the advantages of the new system will make up for the increase in costs. However, when the new system is in use, communication is more cumbersome than before, the functioning is less democratic, and hardly any advantage is worth the financial problems incurred.

In the fifties the UN used only two working languages, English and French. Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic have been added afterwards. But communication has not improved. When a Syrian spoke French and an Egyptian English, most delegates followed their interventions in the original, since a good passive knowledge of both working languages was widespread at the time. Discussions were direct and spontaneous. Today, as the Arab delegates use Arabic, most representatives do not hear them directly. Listening to the interpretation, they miss many nuances included not only in the wording, but also in the voice, the intonation, all those subtle shifts that conviction, sincerity, deceptiveness, ruse or a variety of other factors impress on the spoken word. Furthermore, a percentage of what is being said is dropped, and another is distorted. No improvement in the effectiveness of communication can be honestly acknowledged.

Is it more democratic? No. Some governments enjoy an advantage, since they do not depend on a foreign language. But why is it granted Iraq, not Iran, Argentina, not Brazil, China, not Japan? There is less equality than with only two working languages. Of course, that system gave an unfair edge to English and French speaking countries, but those were few: the majority of Member States were on an equal footing, unfairness was thus more limited.

And as far as costs are concerned, isn't it ironic that no allowance has been made for the drawback imposed to a number of countries? If your rival has the right to use his own language and you have not, he has a noticeable superiority in any negotiation. In a conflict between China and Indonesia, the first one can present its briefs in its own language, whereas the second is deprived of this right. However, the increase in language costs is divided among Members States as usual, so that the countries which suffer a drawback have to finance the superiority they grant their rivals. It would be both simple and fair to compensate, by a reduction in their budget share, the lack of privilege which is imposed on such countries, but this has never been suggested.

“Choosing an official language” appears to be taboo. In most fields, before a decision, options are defined and researched; costs are estimated; advantages and disadvantages are compared; political, economic and other consequences are pondered; mechanisms are foreseen to evaluate the impact of the new policy after a definite time. Not so with linguistic communication. Here, the debate is reduced to a minimum, no comparison is made, hardly any research is undertaken, and some of the options are a priori discarded. Even in organizations that emphasize democracy the question of equality among participants is never raised. It would be easy to put everybody on an equal footing: it would suffice to decide that nobody might use his or her own language. If in some organization, only English, French and German were in use, an easy way to ensure equality would be to oblige native speakers of those three to use another language than their own. So the Brits would be put on the same level as the Finns and the Germans as the Portuguese. It would only be fair, but although such a decision would involve no additional cost it is never envisaged. Yet the prevalent unfairness has been acknowledged by the European Parliament: "There is no doubt that one finds oneself politically most forceful when using one's own language. Using the mother tongue is to enjoy an advantage over those who (...) are burdened with a language which is not their own" (European Parliament, 1994)

This is not the place to analyze the causes of the taboo, which lie in a complex combination of political, economic, social and psychological factors; they have been dealt with elsewhere (Piron, 1994a). But it might be interesting to compare the various options in the field according to a predefined set of criteria.

2. Five approaches to international linguistic communication

The researcher who scans the situations of international communication at a high precision level soon realizes that only five methods are in use. By order of frequency at the global scale, these are:

1) the use of a few “working” or “official” languages, with interpretation of oral exchanges and translation of documents (the oligolingual system);
2) the use by all of the same national language, usually English (the ethnolingual system);
3) the use of all the languages of participants, with interpretation and translation in all of them (the omnilingual system);
4) the use of an "interlanguage", i.e. an interethnic language that has never been the language of a given people (the interlingual system);
5) the use of the languages of all participants without interpretation and translation.

The fifth system is often used among the Scandinavians and the Swiss: there is no need to translate because everybody understands the various languages. It is the only method used in the commissions of the Swiss Parliament, where everybody is supposed to understand French, German and Italian. This system will not be considered here, because it does not meet the needs of communication at the global level or at the scale of, say, Europe. It implies that the number of mother tongues does not exceed three or four.

3. Criteria and observed frameworks

The criteria adopted to compare the various systems are the following: (a) previous government investment; (b) previous investment by the institution; (c) inequality and discrimination; (d) linguistic cost of a session; (e) cost of producing a document; (f) waiting time for a document; (g) loss and distortion of contents; (h) duration of the previous language study (individuals); (i) importance of language handicap; (j) limitations and annoyances; (k) probable increase in drawbacks in the future; (l) terminology problems.

The comparison has been made among the following entities:

oligolingual system: sessions of the UN General Assembly and its First Committee; sessions of the WHO organs, including the World Health Assembly and Regional Committees (Geneva, Manila, Brazzaville); assembly of non-governmental organizations in official relationship with the UN (Geneva); and many others;

ethnolingual system: small working groups of the WHO Committee for the Western Pacific Region (Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo); meetings of the European Psychotherapy Association (Paris); many informal meetings in various locations;

omnilingual system: European Parliament;

interlingual system: meetings held at San Francisco State University and in the framework of a number of Esperanto organizations: Universal Esperanto Association, conventions in Lucern, Antwerp and Beijing; World Youth Esperanto Organization, meetings in Leuven, Rimini and Novosibirsk; Esperanto Cultural Center, La Chaux-de-Fonds, and others. Informal meetings in Rio de Janeiro, Oslo, Budapest, Tokyo, Beijing and other places confirmed the observations made during structured sessions.

This analysis is also based on interviews of members of language units in various organizations and on the author's experience as a translator and précis-writer in the UN and WHO.

The subjects dealt with varied widely from the general to the very specific. There was no essential difference in the kind of contents.

4. How the various systems compare in practice

4.1 Previous government investment

The omnilingual system, and, in the present situation, the interlingual one, do not require any previous investment by governments, whereas the other two would be impossible without considerable amounts being invested by most governments in language teaching. If the interlingual system developed, governments would have to organize teaching of the interlanguage.

4.2 Previous investment in the institutions concerned

The ethnolingual and interlingual methods function without language services (public relations and advertising are outside the scope of this study). For the two other formulae, investments must be made in: recruiting and training translators and interpreters; adapting rooms to simultaneous interpretation (booths, wiring, etc.); setting up a secretarial service for each language; organizing support services: libraries, bibliographic services, electronic research tools, a terminology unit, etc.; providing office space for typing and translation services. Moreover, the growth in language and secretarial staff implies an increase in personnel administration, as well as in accounting, security, medical, conference and travel services, to say nothing of the increased expenditure related to electrical power, elevators, cafeterias, parking space and the like.

4.3 Inequality and discrimination

Some language policies discriminate, others do not. If the only language is English, native speakers of English enjoy a linguistic advantage over other participants. The most discriminatory situation pertains to the oligolingual system. In the UN, a Belgian delegate may use his mother tongue if it is French, but not if it is Dutch (which implies an inequality in the likelihood of being selected as a delegate). Quite often, persons with a high expertise in a specialized field are not gifted for languages, so that the oligolingual and ethnolingual systems favor the countries whose languages are used, their representatives being selected only on the basis of technical competence, and not, as for other countries, on the basis of expertise plus competence in one of the approved foreign languages.

In the European Union, the omnilingual system guarantees equality among peoples. However, in the Secretariat, Dutch, Danish, Greek, Finnish and the other “non powerful” languages are practically unused. Some languages are thus “more equal than others”. Moreover, practically no interpreter can handle language combinations such as Portuguese-Greek, Danish-Slovenian, Dutch-Finnish, and so on. For such languages they resort to a “relay”. Thus, in a session of the European Parliament, what is heard is not a direct rendering of the speaker's intervention, but, say, a Portuguese version of the English translation of the original Greek speech. The representatives of the various States are thus not equally treated, since a Finn, a Dane, a Portuguese have fewer chances of being fully and exactly interpreted, as compared to colleagues with a “powerful” language. According to a UN sponsored study of language services, “at scientific meetings the loss of information through `relay' is of at least 50%”. (King, Bryntsev and Sohm, 1977). When interpretation is doubled, so are the chances of loss and distortion.

The interlingual system avoids discrimination. All participants use a language they have studied in a limited and relatively equivalent duration whatever the native language. Since no one is using his mother tongue, no one enjoys any superiority just for belonging to this or that people. This was already emphasized in a report of the League of Nations, describing the use of Esperanto at the International Conference of School Authorities: "What was most impressive was the equality that the use of [that] language achieves (...). Every one finds himself at the same level, and the delegate from Peking or The Hague can express himself with the same force of conviction as his colleagues from Paris or London” (League of Nations, 1922, p. 22).

Observation of meetings reveals that there is a correlation between the right to use one's mother tongue and the frequency with which one asks for the floor. A person who cannot speak his own language intervenes less often in a debate.

4.4 Linguistic cost of a session

Interpretation is the main item in the language costs of a session. The cost consists essentially of the salaries or fees paid to the interpreters. The larger the number of languages, the higher the costs. Thus the highest cost is linked to the omnilingual system. Indeed, the gap between this system and the others is, in this regard, enormous. The ethnolingual and interlingual systems are free from any cost for this item.

4.5 Cost of producing a document

The wider the language spectrum, the higher the cost of documentation. The costs include the salaries of translators, revisers, librarians, typists and reference staff (where such a personnel exists, as in the UN), as well as the operating expenses (paper, computer use and depreciation, office maintenance, etc.).

A fact generally unknown is that a translator has constantly to do detective work. In many cases, one word includes several items of information, but the meanings so amalgamated differ from one language to the next. For instance, the words his secretary, in English, gives us information on the boss's sex, but not on the secretary's. In French, it's the opposite: son secrétaire means “his or her male secretary”, sa secrétaire “his or her female secretary”. A translator who has to render his secretary into another language has to find out the secretary's sex. Names may help, but not always. Is Secretary Tan Buting a man or a woman? You cannot translate those words into Spanish, French, and many other languages without doing some research to get an answer to the question. In many cultures, assigning a wrong sex to a person may be felt as unacceptably offensive.

Incidentally, this detective work imposed on translators is one of the reasons why computers cannot do the job. Ninety percent of a translator's time is devoted to solving problems that have little to do with what can be automated. What can be done by a computer can be done by a human translator in very little time, say ten percent of his or her working day. But the research that accurate translation demands requires much ingenuity that is beyond the capabilities of the best software networks of artificial intelligence (Piron, 1988, pp. 234-248).

The cost of producing the documents in all working languages depends on the translators' productivity. Unfortunately, statistics are generally configured in a format designed to conceal the low productivity of the translation units. For instance, a 50 page report sent to the translation unit with a request to make ten one-word corrections is recorded on the receiving log with the total of pages. The work can be done in a few minutes, but the translation office will record it as a 50 page document. Such cheating is probably inevitable, in so far as no institution, at any level, has an interest in letting the outside world know exactly how much the use of many languages costs. A secretary who thus inflates the figures will never be blamed.

A conscientious translator cannot translate more than five or six double space A4 pages per day. At the UN, the fastest translation unit, the English one, has an average productivity, per translator, of 2331 words per day. The slowest is the Chinese, with an average daily productivity of 843 words. The medium one is the French unit, with an average of 1517 words. (“English unit” means: those who translate from other languages into English; x words means so many words in the original text) (Allen, Sibahi and Sohm, 1980, table 9).

Translation is expensive. In the oligolingual system, every thousand words in an original text cost US$2030 for translation in seven languages (average for UN and WHO), or more than two dollars per word (Allen, Sibahi and Sohm, 1980, table 7). Such a sum seems more realistic than the figure of 36 cents a word given for the European Union (Rollnick, 1991). Apparently, the European Union translates daily 3,150,000 words, so that translation costs there, in the most conservative estimate, US$ 1,134,000 per day (Rollnick, 1991).

4.6 Waiting time for a document

In a multilingual organization, documents cannot be immediately available in all working languages. In the UN, the typical organization using the oligolingual system, preparing a 25-page single spaced document (14,000 words) in the six official languages requires 63.9 translator workdays, plus 22.9 workdays for revision (Allen, Sibahi and Sohm, 1980, table 9). If typing time is included, the total becomes 98.8 workdays. This does not mean that it takes a hundred days for the document to be ready: translators in different languages work simultaneously, and the urgent texts are divided among translators, as is also done with a very long text. Still, the man in the street, and most linguists, are not aware of how much effort is invested in a result which is far from being impressive: a hundred workdays to communicate, often imperfectly, the contents of just 25 pages. No wonder that translation units are reluctant to present honest statistics.

According to our UN source, if the text is not urgent, it takes 24 days for it to be available in all languages. If it is urgent and receives a high degree of priority, it can be ready in about six days.

In the ethnolingual and interlingual systems a document is available as soon as it is printed, since no translation is needed.

4.7 Loss and distortion

In the ethnolingual and interlingual systems, there is no risk of loss or distortion: listeners and readers deal only with originals. If doubts or misunderstandings appear, they are not due to the system, but to the language level of the individuals.

The situation is quite different with the two multilingual systems, which rely heavily on translation and interpretation. With simultaneous interpretation, a loss of 10% and a distortion of 2 to 3 % are considered normal. The conditions are such that it is impossible to transmit a speech in another language without gaps and errors while it is being delivered. The interpreter must not only have a good delivery, a perfect mastery of both languages, a quick mind and sharp hearing, he must also be fairly familiar with the subject in order to repeat in the target language everything said in the original using the appropriate technical terminology and without dropping important elements. Such a combination of deep linguistic competence and vast technical knowledge can rarely be found. Hence the large number of inaccurate interpreters noted in UN documents (King, Bryntsev and Sohm, 1977, par. 89 and 94).

The distortions and errors found in the simultaneous interpretation of speeches and interventions have their equivalents in written translation as well. The fact that the Treaty of Maastricht - a 253 page document to be voted upon by all European Union citizens - had to be withdrawn from all bookstores and libraries because its content varied from one language to the next shows that even texts of paramount importance are not protected against inaccurate translation. The United Nations Charter provides another example. The various versions of Article 33 evokes situations which are “sufficient” / “able” / “likely” - according to the language - to endanger peace and security. Less important texts are more frequently erroneous. A document of the European Union discussed at some point, in its French version, “les avions sans pilote qui prennent pour cibles les centrales nucléaires”, which means “pilotless aircrafts which take nuclear power plants as targets”. The original referred to “airplanes flying by automatic pilot over nuclear power plants” (de la Guérivière, 1995, p. 15). Such inaccuracies must be viewed against the background of the extremely high cost of translation.

4.8 Duration of the previous language study

The omnilingual system is the only one which does not require participants to have studied languages. In the other three systems a previous study of one or more languages is necessary for at least part of the persons who have to communicate. In the most frequent variant of the ethnolingual system, all those who are not native speakers of English must have learned that language. In the oligolingual system, previous language study is indispensable for most participants, since only a minority have their mother tongues included among the working languages. In the interlingual system, it is assumed that everybody will have had to learn the language. While there are some children whose mother tongue is Esperanto, they are too few to be worth taking into account.

Contrary to a widespread opinion, mastering a foreign language requires an enormous investment in time and nervous energy. Simply making oneself understood is not sufficient. What is necessary is a quality of expression which allows the speakers to convince, to argue, to touch the listeners' emotions all the while avoiding the risk of making a laughing stock of themselves. When Ms H.D., a Danish minister, assumed the chair of an international meeting, and, wanting to apologize for not being fully conversant with the subject, said: “I am at the beginning of my period”, she was the target of much humorous comments in her country's press (see e.g. Jyllands-Posten, 14 January 1994, Sprog og erhverv, 1, 1994).

A foreign language cannot be said to be mastered at the level required in international settings until one has accumulated at least 10,000 hours of study and practice (Piron, 1994a, 76-94). Only Esperanto differs from other languages in ease of acquisition: a mastery level can be reached in 150 to 220 hours.

4.9 Importance of language handicap

The phrase language handicap here refers to the sum of linguistic traits which interfere with fluent oral or written expression. When you do not have complete command over the language you employ, you may have a very clear idea of what you want to convey without being able to do so with the clarity and convincing power you aim at: you do not find the correct words right away, you use less appropriate ones that make you feel grammatically more secure, you give up rendering nuances which may be quite important, and your speeches or texts have much less force than they would have in your mother tongue. Furthermore, mispronunciation can cause confusion or make the speaker sound ridiculous (for instance, saying “My Government sinks” instead of “My Government thinks”).

All languages represent a network of complex programs, in the “computerese” sense of the word. Quite often a program is disturbed by inhibitory subprograms which prevent it from running smoothly. Ask a random sample of non-Anglo-Saxons who have studied English for many years what the plural of sheep is: eight out of ten answer sheeps. The word sheep should be linked to a subprogram stating: “in this case cancel the general program <plural = + s>.” Integrating and maintaining in operating condition the vast number of complex subprograms that should be linked to many linguistic items is beyond the capability of most people if it is not the language prevalent in the environment. Indeed, those subprograms are the first to stop operating when a foreign language is neglected for a few years.

This is the main reason why a minimum of 10,000 hours of study and practice are needed to possess any national language. The reader who doubts the validity of that figure may get a confirmation by observing the language of a six or seven year old child. Even after some 10,000 hours of full immersion in the language, it will utter such forms as I comed, he falled, mouses, foots, it's mines, etc. Intellectual immaturity is not to be invoked: the child is more logical than the official language. But while the general programs are operating, the subprograms are not. They have not yet been installed in the brain or they are still unstable or poorly connected to the neurological structures activated by linguistic expression.

A language which lacks interfering subprograms and is only made up of general programs (for instance, just one program for the plural, just one program for the present tense of all verbs, just one program to derive an adjective from a noun, and so on) respects without exception the natural tendency to generalize linguistic traits. Both acquisition and use of the language are then considerably easier. Esperanto is such a language.

If it frees its user from language handicap, it is also because it is extremely flexible. Thought has not to be channeled into predetermined patterns. To express the idea “he thanks me”, the user of Esperanto can follow the English word order (li dankas min), the German structure (li dankas al mi) or the French one (li min dankas). A century of practice has proven that this freedom enhances linguistic comfort without hampering mutual comprehension. Combined with the lack of exceptions and the regularity of patterns (also in word formation, which is usually quite creative), this freedom explains why language handicap is so seldom experienced by the user of Esperanto. As Prof. Janton observed: “Although it is not a native language, it is not a foreign language either. A mature Esperanto speaker always feels it as his or her own, which, except for the rare cases of perfect bilingualism, cannot be said of any other language that has had to be learned” (Janton, 1983).

To the neurolinguistic reasons why language handicap is unusual among users of Esperanto another factor has to be added: there is no linguistically superior people who could say, or think: “this is right, this is wrong” about the phrasing, the grammar, the vocabulary. This represents a marked contrast with the ethnolingual and oligolingual systems, in which those who do not have the right mother tongue feel in some way inferior (unless they have no idea of their actual, possibly low, level).

In sessions applying the interlingual system, no correlation can be found between the mother tongue and the frequency with which participants ask for the floor. Therefore although the language has been learned, the observer has the feeling of a human environment in which all participants speak their mother tongue. This is the aspect which most distinguishes this system from the other three.

4.10 Limitations and annoyances

“Limitations”, as used here, refers to all factors which restrict the freedom to choose the places, means and times in which communication can occur. The oligolingual and omnilingual systems require conference rooms equipped for simultaneous interpretation and limit the discussions to the times when the interpreters are available, whereas the ethnolingual and interlingual systems allow discussions to take place anywhere and at any time, even in case of power failure.

Conditions that enable work to be carried out smoothly in a pleasant atmosphere are also worth considering because they contribute to the success of the activities. The word “annoyances”, in this paper, refers to all the factors that thwart that feeling. Many participants in international conferences find most unpleasant the need to constantly wear earphones and to listen to a voice different from the speakers'. With the kind of earphones now usually in use, that do not isolate from background noises and thus from the original speech, and that are set on only one ear, persons with a hearing handicap are disadvantaged. Anyway, nervous fatigue is worse in a session with simultaneous interpretation than in an ethnolingual or interlingual one. However, in a meeting which uses only one language, increased tiredness can also appear due to the necessity to follow, and to take part in, a debate which is held in a language not completely mastered by the subject. Foreign pronunciation may interfere with immediate comprehension and demand a greater effort to follow the discussion. Because of its unusually wide spectrum of phonemes, and especially vowel sounds, English is one of the languages less adapted to international communication in this respect.

4.11 Probable increase in drawbacks in the future

By their very nature, the ethnolingual and interlingual systems are not exposed to the risk of increasing disadvantages. The situation is quite different elsewhere. Adding one language is much more than adding a unit; it is multiplying the language combinations for which translation and interpretation must be provided. That number results from the formula N (N-1). In the European Union, which uses 20 languages since May 2004, the number of combinations is 380. From the outset, the UN family has accepted a gradual increase in the number of working languages. The trend still exists: a highly active lobby is pushing to obtain official status for Portuguese, Hindi and Japanese.

4.12 Terminology

Terminology problems will not be included in the table that, hereafter, sums up the advantages and drawbacks of the four systems. The reason is that all systems are plagued by them. In the UN the absence of a precise terminology in Chinese posed serious problems for translators in the 50s and 60s. Similar difficulties appeared when Arabic was introduced. If an international organization other than the present Esperanto associations adopted that language, it would have to organize a fairly strong terminological service. True, in many political, social, scientific and technical fields, Esperanto terminology predates that of Chinese, Arabic and others, and the language's structures allow for the solution of terminological problems more easily than other tongues (Esperanto had a word for software earlier than French). Nevertheless Esperanto terminology has many gaps concerning machine components, technical processes and special items of industry, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and other specialized fields, as well as concerning precise subdivisions or description elements of products in international commerce. Although there is a long tradition of how to set up Esperanto terminology, the work to be done is still considerable, similar to that which the UN Chinese terminology unit has had to carry out in the fifties. Terminology problems also appear in the omnilingual and oligolingual systems because specialized fields develop at such a swift rate that many languages cannot follow the rhythm.

5. A tentative quantification of the superiorities and inferiorities of the four systems

Not all criteria lend themselves to quantification, and, when they do, it is generally impossible to gather exact figures. The overall picture may be clearer if we adopt a binary system, in which 1 means “this drawback is present” and 0 “this drawback does not exist”. We can thus reach four totals which will highlight the differences between the systems.

Obviously, such a way of proceeding is not objective. All criteria are treated as if they were of equal importance, which, certainly, does not correspond to reality. But on what objective basis could their respective importance be evaluated? Another bias stems from the fact that this quantification method ignores differences which are far from being negligible in practice. If, as an average, six months of Esperanto afford a communication level that demands six years for another language, giving all systems which require language learning an equal mark of 1 for this criterion results in introducing a very serious bias.

Similarly, a 1 is ascribed to the interlingual system for the handicap criterion although observation of meetings shows that this handicap is impressively lower with Esperanto than with other foreign languages. But compared with the omnilingual system, the interlingual one still includes some measure of handicap, since the language being used in not the mother tongue and the difference between the linguistically gifted and the others is greater than when the mother tongue is used.

Whatever those reservations, it is interesting to note that the communication system with the most advantages and the fewer drawbacks is the interlingual one, even with a calculation method particularly unfair to it. In the following table it is assumed that, if the interlingual system were adopted, governments would organize the teaching of the interlanguage, which explains the presence of a 1 for the first criterion in the “interlingual” column. If only the present day situation were considered, there would be no previous government investment for this item and the figure should be 0. The sum for the “interlingual” column should then be corrected to 2.

As a matter of fact, for this same criterion, the zero attributed to the omnilingual system does not fully reflect reality. Even if all languages of the participating countries are accepted in the international entity concerned, governments still invest money in language teaching. The zero in this line represents the fact that the teaching of foreign languages is not necessary (and thus may be less seriously implemented) for ensuring an adequate representation at the international level when the omnilingual system is the one in use.

The four communication systems compare as follows for the eleven criteria that have been retained:

  Oligolingual Ethnolingual Omnilingual Interlingual
a) Prior investment by governments 1 1 0 1
b) Prior investment by institutions 1 0 1 0
c) Inequality and discrimination 1 1 0 0
d) Language costs of meetings 1 0 1 0
e) Language cost of document production 1 0 1 0
f) Waiting time for documents 1 0 1 0
g) Loss and distortion of information 1 1 1 0
h) Duration of language study (participants) 1 1 0 1
i) Language handicap (speech, hearing) 1 1 0 1
j) Limitations and annoyances 1 1 1 0
k) Probable future increase of drawbacks 1 0 1 0
Total level of disadvantages 11 6 7 3

6. Conclusion

Observation of linguistic communication according to the four approaches currently in use at the international level reveals that the interlingual system offers the most advantages, as well for the individual participants as for the governments and for the organizations in whose framework international communication is taking place. In other words, it is, with the ethnolingual system, the most cost effective, but it has over the latter the important advantage of avoiding discrimination and inequality among the persons concerned, and of demanding much less time and effort to reach the required level of linguistic competence.

However, this system has to face an important disadvantage which has not been included: apart from a few private associations, its introduction would have to be organized from scratch. In itself, this would not be so difficult if the chosen language is Esperanto because of the many features which make it particularly well adapted to the spontaneous functioning of the human brain. But the question must be posed against a whole background of political, social, cultural and economic forces which favor inertia and the preservation of privileges rather than a radical change leading to a more cost effective and democratic solution. In proportion to the world population, few people have the ability to really master English, yet the trend in international communication in recent years has been towards the ethnolingual system based on the use of that language only. This has brought about the creation of a linguistic elite, which does not want to lose the many advantages it derives from belonging to the small circle of those who can take part in global communication.

Such being the situation, it might be warranted to include an additional criterion in the table presented above: “force of inertia to be overcome”. If, for this additional point, we ascribe the 1 mark to the interlingual system, and the 0 one to the three others, the figure summing up the drawbacks increases to 4 for the interlingual system, but still remains below the drawback level of the others. The interlingual system thus comes out as the winner in the competition.

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